Every so often you meet a person so inspiring as to make the hair on your arms electric and the air around you still. I met such a person last week, while participating in a panel of women authors at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her name is Latoya Lucas: she is a wife, mother, and recipient of a Purple Heart, the nation’s highest award for service and combat injuries.
“I was deployed to Iraq one month after the invasion began,” Latoya told a rapt audience of aspiring women writers. She wore a smart grey dress offset by a black cinch belt and pumps, but it wasn’t her clothes you noticed. It was impossible not to see her limp or how the left side of her body, her bare arm and leg, were badly pocked and scarred. Later, we would observe her hearing loss and the subtlest hint of her permanent brain injury.
Latoya joined the Army at age twenty, partly as a way to rise above the poverty, crime, drugs and hopelessness that shaped her rough upbringing in Washington, D.C., and partly because she’d been inspired by her Army grandfather and Marine husband.
On July 22, 2003, Latoya found herself driving a Humvee on a deserted road normally congested with traffic. She knew something wasn’t right, and then, out of nowhere, rocket grenades burst toward her vehicle, the second of which hit beneath her seat, instantly hurling her and the soldier beside her to the road. “I saw blood everywhere and my left leg and arm were dangling.”
Latoya had severe injuries: broken bones, a shattered pelvis, nerve damage, muscle loss, burns covering her body, and traumatic brain injury. Multiple surgeries and transfusions later, she landed at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in D.C., where she would undergo still more procedures (including a colostomy) and months of rehabilitation therapy. Her recovery would be uneven and painful.
Seven years later, the woman warrior shows no signs of bitterness. “I always felt that as long as I was living, everything else could be worked out,” she said.
There is so much more to Latoya’s story and she chronicles it in a book called “The Immeasurable Spirit: Lessons of a Wounded Warrior about Faith and Perseverance.” In between her college studies and raising her daughter, Latoya acts as a motivational speaker for students and groups. She certainly motivated me.
For Vivid Living readers, Latoya shares three simple but powerful mantras to improve resiliency in life.
1) Surround yourself with positive people.
2) Never accept defeat.
3) Never subscribe to the limitations set by others.
She ought to know.